Reading Awareness

Why Diversity in Books is So Important

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Image of young adult author Nicola Yoon and her husband holding up a sign that says, “We need diverse books because of everything in this circle.” There is a circle cut out of the sign and their daughter is standing so her face is in the circle. Photo credit:  Nicola Yoon

Image of young adult author Nicola Yoon and her husband holding up a sign that says, “We need diverse books because of everything in this circle.” There is a circle cut out of the sign and their daughter is standing so her face is in the circle. Photo credit: Nicola Yoon

In a recent blog post, we previewed a few books included in our curriculum for the 2018-2019 school year. Among the books included are short stories and novels that feature characters and are written by people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, authors who deal with mental health issues, and have other diverse experiences.

ADL is a nonprofit whose mission is to secure justice and fair treatment to all, including those of varying religions, races, genders, and identities. ADL posted an article outlining anti-biased education and how diversity in books was related. The article explains the difference between “mirror books” and “window books” when referring to diversity in children’s literature. A “mirror book” contains a reflection of oneself: your culture, gender, race, religion, etc. and enables the reader to potentially see themselves in a different light. On the other hand, a “window book” gives the reader a glance into another life that features different people, events, and places that they may not be familiar with. Exposing students to different environments through these “window books” is a unique opportunity to learn empathy and perspective, while allowing children to reflect on their experiences through “mirror” books helps them relate in new ways and learn more about themselves in the process.

A graphic titled “Proportion of children’s books by people of color published in the US (2017).” The graphic shows the following statistics: 3,150 white, 274 Asian Pacific/Pacific Americans, 122 African/African Americans, 116 Latinos, 38 American Indians/First Nations.  Source

A graphic titled “Proportion of children’s books by people of color published in the US (2017).” The graphic shows the following statistics: 3,150 white, 274 Asian Pacific/Pacific Americans, 122 African/African Americans, 116 Latinos, 38 American Indians/First Nations. Source

What Portion of Books are Considered Diverse Today?

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center does a yearly study on how many books are published from non-white authors. Though there has been an increase in recent years for books published from multicultural authors, there are still just over 10% of books published in the last 24 years that were written by and about people of color. This is compared to the 2017 census data that reported 40% of Americans as people of color.

Examining the books in the Young Adult LGBTQ category, where the characters or plot line focuses on LGBTQ issues, the percentage has doubled in the last decade. Malindo Lo, an author who writes about such issues, conducted her own study in 2017. Malindo counted books published each year by mainstream authors, reaching nearly 80 books in 2018, up from 55 in 2015. Comparing this to the 4.5% reported American LGBT population in 2017, there is a large variance between the population and the representation within publications and what students are exposed to. This under-representation is what a lot of advocacy groups and movements aim to address today.

Is Diversity in Books an Important Topic Today?

Yes! We Need Diverse Books aims to “produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” An 11 year old African-American girl, Marley Dias, launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in contemporary books.

Words Alive understands the importance of diversity as well and works hard to bring “window books” and “mirror books” into the classrooms to teach students self-reflection and empathy. Most of our participants are non-white students, a group that is severely underrepresented in American publications. By exposing students to different cultures and reliving how main characters have endured experiences that the reader may have gone through personally, we are able to bring more representation, tolerance, and understanding into the classroom.

Sources:

https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/table-talk/why-we-need-diverse-books

http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217

https://www.malindalo.com/blog/2017/10/12/lgbtq-ya-by-the-numbers-2015-16

https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

https://diversebooks.org/about-wndb/





Dyslexia Awareness Month!

An image of blocks of letters all mixed up. People with dyslexia experience difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities.

An image of blocks of letters all mixed up. People with dyslexia experience difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities.

What is Dyslexia?

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, a time to bring more attention to what dyslexia is and how best to work with those who are dyslexic. The International Dyslexia Association characterizes the learning disability as difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities. Consequences from dyslexia can include problems with reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge. Unrelated to a person’s cognitive abilities, dyslexia has many positive consequences, including helping individuals become highly resilient and adaptable, articulate and expressive of thoughts and feelings, empathetic, and having the ability to think outside of the box and see the bigger picture.

Who Is Impacted By Dyslexia and What Is Being Done About It?

The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity states that dyslexia effects 20% of the population and represents 80-90% of those with a learning disability. Due to the prevalence of dyslexia, thirty-nine of the fifty states have introduced dyslexia related legislation, which are outlined on . The National Center on Improving Literacy website in detail. California, as one of these states, has a bill that requires guidelines to be prepared to assist teachers and parents in identifying dyslexia as well as provide improved educational services to these students. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also provides the accommodation for students with dyslexia to have additional time to take exams, believed to be one of the most critical accommodations that allows students to succeed alongside students without the learning disability.

How Best to Teach Those With Dyslexia?

Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) is a method that is frequently used to teach individuals with dyslexia. Also termed Scientific Word Investigation, WordWorksKingston.com describes one of the guiding principles behind the method to be: the conventions by which English spelling represents meaning are so well-ordered and reliable that spelling can be investigated and understood through scientific inquiry. The Nueva school, a California-based school, summarizes the method into a few simple steps: The method starts with students brainstorming a way to define the word, using knowledge they already have. From there, they look at the structure of the word before diving into the etymology of the word as well as what the prefix, suffix, or base word is. Then, the students explore if there are any related words, before visually representing them in what has been termed a “Word Sum”. Lastly, the students debrief about what they learned about that particular word family. By going through this inquiry process, students learn more about the background of the word and are given the tools to learn new words on their own.

If you believe your child or student has dyslexia, but aren’t sure where to start, many of the websites listed below have additional resources. Another resource that is frequently cited by national and international dyslexia organizations is Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz.

Events such as Dyslexia Awareness Month helps to bring attention to the 20% of our population who have dyslexia. Through this additional time and recognition, students are given the opportunity to learn to read and succeed alongside their peers.

Sources:

https://dyslexiaida.org/definition-of-dyslexia/

http://dyslexia.yale.edu/dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/

https://improvingliteracy.org/state-of-dyslexia/california

http://wordworkskingston.com/WordWorks/Structured_Word_Inquiry.html

https://www.nuevaschool.org/student-experience/lower-school/structured-word-inquiry

The Psychology of Reading

By Jennifer Van Pelt

An image of two children standing in a green field while reading books.

An image of two children standing in a green field while reading books.

Our minds go through an entire array of thoughts, feelings, and emotions while we read. There are also numerous background activities going on in the brain while we read that enhance literary experiences and can have both short and long-term effects on the reader.

What Happens While You’re Reading A Book?

To you, reading may just seem like a daily task, requiring you to repeatedly run your eyes across the page to get the information you desire. However, an article on the Open Education Database (OEDB) enumerates several other processes our minds perform in the background to allow reading to give us the knowledge and satisfaction we need.

The first on the list: visualization while reading is involuntary. The article states that visual imagery is simply an automatic reaction that doesn’t require an outside prompt. This allows the reader to simultaneously imagine whole new worlds as the words on the page slowly piece it together for them. Also mentioned in the OEDB article, our brain doesn’t make a distinction between reading about an experience and actually living it. The same neurological regions are stimulated despite if it is a real experience, or just reading about one.

What Happens After You Finish the Book?

Fiction books are meant to pull the readers in and create connection to the characters, empathizing with them in the process. After a few hundred pages of relating to the main characters, it can be tough when the book inevitably ends, severing the connection between the reader. In these cases, when you have been completely enveloped in a novel, people have said they experience a “Book Hangover”. These are generally experienced after those books you can’t put down, or after a cliffhanger conclusion. Although there is no science behind why people experience these literary “hangovers”, an article by Psychology Today summarizes three aspects of art in literature that can affect personality, long after you’ve closed the back cover:

  1. Reading fiction can give you social expertise, by allowing you step into the world of the characters and navigate through social situations with them.

  2. Literature can destabilize personality by enabling the reader to empathize through the ups and downs of the plot. This can in turn allow the reader to open up to their own inner experiences.

  3. Literature is an indirect communication method that encourages the reader to make inferences about how the characters are feeling. In the same way that people learn to understand how and why people feel the way they do, literature helps one understand in a similar way.

Words Alive knows that reading is not only an engaging activity for the mind, but it can have long lasting effects on the social and emotional side of the reader as well. We aim to provide the tools needed to underserved students and families so that they can fully reap the benefits of reading. If you would like to learn more about the programs that we offer and get involved, visit our page here.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201501/how-reading-can-change-you-in-major-way

https://oedb.org/ilibrarian/your-brain-on-books-10-things-that-happen-to-our-minds-when-we-read/



Is Literacy a Constitutional Right?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

A Words Alive graphic that says, "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive. We read to live full, independent lives. We read to...." The following list includes statements such as "apply for jobs that pay a living wage", "advocate for our families", and "vote or write to our elected officials."

A Words Alive graphic that says, "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive. We read to live full, independent lives. We read to...." The following list includes statements such as "apply for jobs that pay a living wage", "advocate for our families", and "vote or write to our elected officials."

A lawsuit filed in 2016 to establish literacy as a U.S. Constitutional right was struck down by a federal judge last month. The suit argued that Detroit students are excluded from the state’s education system, thus violating their rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. These clauses say that no state can deny any person life, liberty, or property without due process of the law and also prevents states from denying equal protection of the laws to any person.

An article from the Detroit News details the fact that though the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee the right to education, the Supreme Court has not confirmed nor denied it either. The judge also wrote that the case needed further supports to prove their case, which leaves room for this case to come back and be tried later to help support students from Detroit and across the nation.

Why Is This Case So Important?

In 2017, the US Department of Education found that 65% of fourth-grade children nationwide were not proficient in reading. When so many children have fallen behind before they are halfway through their schooling, it is difficult for them to successfully continue and complete their education. When looking at the high school completion rates, the National Center for Education Statistics states that for the 2015-2016 school year, 1 out of 6 students failed to graduate with a high school diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade.

Without a high school diploma, finding a job that pays a living wage is increasingly difficult. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2017 data, a full-time worker without a high school diploma earns a median weekly wage of $515, while a worker with a high school diploma earns $718. When these individuals are successful in high school and have the skill set to pursue higher education, they earn a median salary over double that of someone who didn’t complete high school: $1,189 weekly wages for those with a bachelor’s degree. This demonstrates how the literacy skills that are taught in early years of school can lay the entire foundation for the future of a child’s life. Currently, about 20% of adults in the United States are not earning a salary considered to be “a living wage.” Furthermore, applying for jobs and filling out employment forms also require reading and writing skills, making it difficult for these individuals to improve their situation.

A picture of a child in our Read Aloud Program holding the book "Are You My Mother?" while smiling.

A picture of a child in our Read Aloud Program holding the book "Are You My Mother?" while smiling.

By failing to provide the proper education for these children, the government may experience higher costs in healthcare as well. Literate adults have the knowledge and skills to seek out more preventative forms of healthcare including contraception use. According to debt.org, it is estimated that $18 billion could be saved annually if patients who have non-urgent/avoidable medical concerns were to take advantage of preventative health care instead of relying on emergency rooms for their medical needs. Emergency rooms are required by federal law to provide care for all patients, despite if they have insurance or are unable to pay, meaning that it is a popular choice for those who are disadvantaged.

There are countless more studies that show that illiteracy is connected to other undesirable life outcomes, including incarceration and reliance on public assistance programs. To illustrate, 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read, and once they do leave the prison system, there aren’t any programs that allow them the opportunity to learn how to read in order to properly apply for a job. According to an article on The Observer, arming inmates with a solid education is one of the surest ways of reducing the rate at which they end up back behind bars after being released. The prison system is beginning to make moves to address these issues, but the real change needs to happen before these individuals are incarcerated by providing them with the education and tools to develop a healthy, independent lifestyle.

At Words Alive, we’ve created a “Why Literacy Matters” graphic (included above), illustrating how literacy is present in daily life and how necessary literacy is for living a full and independent life. Declaring literacy as a constitutional right would make these day to day tasks possible for everyone, allowing them to create a life for themselves that they are able to choose. Providing high-quality literacy education and opportunities at the beginning of these children’s lives is the start to building a generation that is able to accomplish their goals and achieve heights their parents were not able to. Because literacy tends to be “passed down”, meaning that it is difficult for an illiterate guardian to help a child read or do homework, it is important that the children today have the proper education and the right to break this cycle of illiteracy.

If you are interested in helping the literacy cause closer to home in San Diego, visit our volunteering page here.

Sources:

https://amp.detroitnews.com/amp/747738002

https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_coi.asp

http://observer.com/2017/07/prison-illiteracy-criminal-justice-reform/

The Benefits of Discussing Books in Small Groups

By Jennifer Van Pelt

A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

A picture of Read Aloud volunteer, Barb Takahashi, talking with Golden Hill students in her small group session.

Words Alive runs multiple literacy programs that focus on teaching strong literacy skills and a commitment to reading to children, teens, and families. One of our most popular programs is the Read Aloud Program, which currently serves over 4,300 Southern California students that are between Preschool and 3rd grade.

We offer this program in a “small group format” to a few of our school sites, in which our trained volunteers visit the classroom for 90 minutes each week to read to the group as a whole, then split the class into groups of 3-5 students to discuss the book and do small group activities. A study from aecf.org showed that students who are unable to read proficiently by the time they leave 3rd grade are four times more likely to not receive a high school diploma. Because of their young age and the relationship between literacy and success in education, we want to provide the most benefit we can in the 90 minutes a week that our volunteers visit the classrooms by fully engaging the students. We vet and train our volunteers to ensure they understand the discussion material and have the appropriate props, stories, and photos to help bring the books to life for the students.

These volunteers are able to bring more materials to the classroom so the group discussions are able to make the connection between the book and their everyday lives. Another benefit of the program, as noticed by our volunteers, is that all children are given the opportunity to participate. In a group of 30 or more students, children don’t always have the support to get individualized attention and encouragement to speak up like they do in smaller groups. They are also given the opportunity to use the new vocabulary and read aloud, so they can have another method of internalizing the new information.

In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, Words Alive partnered with the University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research and surveyed the teachers and volunteers involved in this small group format of the Read Aloud Program. When asking them about the effectiveness of the small groups, 9 out of 10 teachers agreed that it encouraged more individual participation, helped students understand the story, and resulted in deeper discussions. Teachers also positively rated their student's reading motivation as a 4.1 on a 5 point scale after they participated in our Read Aloud Program formatted with small groups. Reading motivation is a key literacy indicator because it shows the self-confidence and desire to continue reading, which leads to more learning and practice.

In these underserved schools particularly, there is often times no guarantee that students are provided with the necessary resources and support staff to receive the individualized attention that our Read Aloud Program provides. That is why teachers and volunteers believe in the work that we do and recommend the program to other schools.

If you would like to become a volunteer in our Read Aloud Program, or any other positions at Words Alive, visit our website here to learn more.

Words Alive Welcomes New Hire

Words Alive continues to grow, and as we expand, we are continually building our team. In that vein, we are excited to announce our newest team member, Sara Mortensen. Sara joins the Words Alive family as the Office Coordinator, responsible for front desk operations and supports development, events, communications and programs.

Sara Mortensen

Sara is native to San Diego and graduated from the University of California, San Diego with both a B.S. in Cognitive Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and a B.A. in Dance. Previously, Sara worked as a Research Assistant with the Veterans Medical Research Foundation on the QUICK Study, which aimed to quantify how the use of Electronic Health Records in clinical settings affects physician-patient communication. Sara is also a volunteer for The Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to create positive social change through the power of story. She currently holds the position of Research Team Lead for the Campaigns Department. Sara is very passionate about reading and is excited to be working with the Words Alive Team.

Now, let’s hear from Sara!

Sara, tell us what intrigued you about Words Alive?

I am very passionate about reading and since I have graduated from college, I have been interested in finding a full-time job at a nonprofit organization. So Words Alive seemed like a perfect fit for me! I think that the work that Words Alive does is so important for our community, and I really wanted to be a part of making that happen.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

I am most excited about how much I am going to learn in this position! I'm looking forward to working closely with multiple different departments here and seeing how I can best contribute to the success of Words Alive.

What is your relationship with literacy?

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have early memories of reading, whether it was first learning to read in preschool, helping my best friend learn to read better in second grade, my mom reading Harry Potter with me every night, or discussing what books I'm currently reading with my friends. Literacy has been so important to my personal development and success, and I think that my love of books shapes a lot of my personality. When someone asks me to describe myself, the first thing I say is usually, "I'm a reader!"

And by the way, what are you reading currently?

I am currently reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I am also listening to the audiobook of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is my third time reading The Name of the Wind; it is one of my all-time favorite books!

Currently, there are no employment opportunities at Words Alive, but we are ALWAYS recruiting for wonderful volunteers to work in the classrooms with both other students and families. Check out how to get involved as a Words Alive volunteer! #makereadingmatter #wordsalive.

Summer Reading Book Drive

It is Reading Awareness Month in San Diego and to help share the importance of reading, Words Alive is participating in a summer reading book drive to benefit the libraries of San Diego. 

“More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher – income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college."

Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement over the summer months. Books collected will be distributed to students by the San Diego Public Library to ensure they are able to keep up with their reading over the summer.

To announce this new endeavor, on April 19th Words Alive brought a Read Aloud Program classroom from Washington Elementary to the City Council Meeting. Our students were so excited to learn about what goes on at these meetings and shared their love of reading with the City Council. Madeline from the third grade class addressed the Council and shared, “reading is important because it lets you go places.”

In partnership with Council member Lorie Zapf, City of San Diego, United Way of San Diego County, and the San Diego County Public Library The Summer Reading Book Drive will run through May 31. We will have a collection bin here at Words Alive and keep a look out for bins at your neighborhood public library and select City Administration buildings in San Diego.

As part of our commitment to make reading matter to everyone, we want to encourage all of the work being done in San Diego that supports our mission, “to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading!”

Click HERE to view a list of all of the San Diego County Libraries and locations.